Source AP ©

Conrad Black convicted of shareholders' fraud

Former newspaper mogul Conrad Black was accused of swindling shareholders in his Hollinger International media empire out of millions of dollars.

Black, 63, a Canadian-born member of the British House of Lords renowned for his lavish lifestyle and flamboyant way with words, faces between 6 1/2 years and about 8 years in prison under sentencing guidelines determined at a Monday hearing in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve, who presided over his four-month trial earlier this year.

Two other former Hollinger executives, both Canadians, and a Chicago lawyer who worked for the big media holding company were convicted along with Black and also were due to be sentenced Monday.

Federal prosecutors wanted the silver-haired press lord, a talented biographer whose subjects include Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard M. Nixon, sent to federal prison for as long as 24 years.

Few if any of those close to the trial expected a sentence that stiff. But even half that time would be harsh, especially at Black's age, and prosecutors are all but guaranteed to ask St. Eve to have the former press lord locked up as soon as the sentence is imposed to guard against any temptation on his part to run.

While awaiting his sentence, Black has been prevented by court order from returning to Canada and required to remain either in the Chicago area or at his Florida estate. He has been free on $21 million (14 million EUR) bond.

A major point of dispute has been how to calculate the total loss to shareholders. Prosecutors put it at $32 million (22 million EUR). But a pre-sentence report, prepared by the probation department, figured the loss at $6 million (4 million EUR).

The lower number could mean a shorter sentence for Black if St. Eve accepts it.

Scores of business executives, politicians and others have written to St. Eve, urging her to show mercy in sentencing the media executive. But there's no guarantee that offers even a glimmer of hope.

Black was convicted by a jury July 13 of three counts of mail fraud. He also was convicted of obstruction of justice for removing boxes of documents from his Toronto offices although he knew investigators wanted them.

Also convicted on the fraud counts were Jack Boultbee, 64, former Hollinger chief financial officer; Peter Atkinson, 60, former Hollinger executive vice president, and Mark Kipnis, former Hollinger corporate counsel.

In its heyday when Black was chairman and CEO, Hollinger International owned the Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post, the Chicago Sun-Times and hundreds of U.S. and Canadian community newspapers.

Black, Atkinson and Boultbee were convicted of paying bonuses to themselves without board approval out of the proceeds from the sale of Hollinger-owned newspapers. The money allegedly was disguised as "non-compete payments" - payments made by the buyers to guarantee they would not face competition from the former owners.

Black was acquitted of nine other charges, including racketeering.

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